Celtics may take draft hit over play of surprising Kings
When the Celtics traded the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 draft to the 76ers in exchange for the No. 3 overall choice, they received a future first-round pick in return. Since they did not get the 2018 Lakers pick that Philadelphia owned, they will now receive the Kings’ first-round pick this June, as long as it does not land No. 1 overall.
Sacramento was expected to struggle this season but has been one of the league’s most surprising teams. The Kings dropped to 33-34 after Thursday’s 126-120 loss to the Celtics. They will likely miss the playoffs, but the pick will not be as high as Boston once hoped.
“They’re having a great year,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the game. “Their depth is really good, they play at the best pace in the league. . . . They put you on your heels the whole time. It starts with [De’Aaron] Fox with the ball. He has a special gear playing up the court.”
If the season ended now, the Kings would get the 14th overall pick, unless they jumped into the top four via the draft lottery. Sacramento would have just a 1.9 percent chance of landing a pick in the 2-4 range, however.
When Duke star Zion Williamson injured his knee early in a Feb. 20 game against North Carolina, one of the Nike sneakers he was wearing split open. They were Paul George 2.5 edition shoes, and Nike faced extensive criticism after the unusual equipment malfunction.
Williamson returned on Thursday night to face Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinals. But Duke posted a picture on its Twitter account earlier in the day showing that Williamson had changed his footwear, shifting to the Nike Kyrie Irving 4s. The Celtics point guard, of course, spent one season at Duke before he was chosen with the first pick in the 2011 draft.
“He’s a talented player, so I think I expect great things out of him,” Irving said. “I don’t think the shoe will make a difference, but I’m happy he’s in the Nike brand. He’s a special player, so I’m just happy that he has some shoes that won’t deteriorate over time.
“He was really comfortable in the PGs, and he probably wore them a little bit too many times or whatever the case may be. I don’t know the exact thing. I’m just happy he’s out there healthy and playing. That’s all I care about. I don’t care what shoes he’s in as long as he’s in the Nike brand.”
Williamson had 29 points and 14 rebounds and made all 13 of his shots in Duke’s 84-72 win over Syracuse.
Eye on transition game
The Celtics entered Thursday allowing 17.7 fast-break points per game over their last 15 contests, the third-worst mark in the NBA over that time. Stevens was wary about how Sacramento’s fast-paced attack might affect his team, but he felt like it would be a good test as the regular season nears its end.
And one of the best ways to improve transition defense, Stevens said, is with good offense. When the ball goes into the basket rather than thudding off the rim or resulting in a turnover, it is much more difficult for the opponent to attack quickly.
“If we make teams play against our set defense, that usually means we’re running good offense, and getting a reasonable shot, and not turning it over,” Stevens said. “We have a pretty good chance of being successful if we do that.”
Who’s in, out
Celtics guard Terry Rozier and center Daniel Theis missed Thursday’s game because of illnesses. Marcus Smart, who had been questionable with an illness, was cleared to play and contributed 7 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes. Jayson Tatum, who missed Monday’s loss to the Clippers, returned and finished with 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting.